For the 4th consecutive year, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are Japan Series champions. It was SoftBank’s 7th Japan Series championship in the last 10 years. This latest championship caps off a season where the Hawks held the best record in NPB. Fukuoka is becoming one of the great franchises in all of sports.
The 2020 Japan Series was lopsided. For the second consecutive season, the Hawks swept the Giants in 4 games. This year was arguably more dominant, as the Hawks almost no-hit the Central League champs in game 3. SoftBank pitchers also held the Giants to the lowest ever team batting average for a Japan Series, at .132, as well as the lowest number of hits, at 16.
Hawks catcher Takuya Kai has guided the SoftBank pitchers through each of their Japan Series wins over the past 4 years. During this year’s Japan Series, he also hit 2 home runs. He’s one of the most important, and consistent, members of this SoftBank dynasty.
Infielder Ryoya Kurihara won the Japan Series MVP and led the team with 7 hits in the series. Veteran Yuki Yanagita had 6 hits of his own. Alfredo Despaigne tied a Japan Series record with 6 RBI in game 2 of the series. Four of those coming from a grand slam.
The Hawks are in the midst of a historic period of dominance. There have only been two other periods in NPB history where we’ve seen similar stretches. The first was the Yomiuri Giants, with their V-9 dynasty and 9 straight championships from 1965-1973; one of the most important members of that team was NPB legend Sadaharu Oh, who is, coincidentally, the current Chairman of the SoftBank Hawks franchise.
The only other time something similar has happened was during the 1980s. The Saitama Seibu Lions also put together a winning team and created a short-lived dynasty. In the eleven seasons between 1982 and 1992, the Lions won 8 championships. A mark the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks could tie next season.
The SoftBank Hawks will go into the offseason with a full head of steam. They will prepare to come back as strong as ever next season. Unless another team can find their Achilles heel, or put together a comparable roster, we could be looking at a 5-peat at the end of the 2021 season.
But, that speculation can wait until March. For now, all the focus in the NPB is on the players that might transition into MLB next year. Two big names, both right-handed pitchers, have already announced their intentions to join MLB clubs for the 2021 season: Tomoyuki Sugano and Kohei Arihara.
At 6’2” and more than 200 lbs, Arihara is a beast with a mid-90s fastball. The 2015 Pacific League Rookie of the Year spent 6 up-and-down seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters where he impressed at times, but had trouble staying healthy. When compared to the huge price that Sugano will carry this offseason, Arihara could be a steal for an MLB team looking to add another arm.
For a time, Tomoyuki Sugano was widely considered to be the best pitcher in Japan. Despite his struggles in this year’s Japan Series, the Giants ace should be getting a huge MLB contract next season. In 2017 and 2018, Sugano won back-to-back Sawamura awards. In 2020, he kept a 1.97 ERA and a 14-2 record. My Yankees won’t go after him, but with all the money Steve Cohen is pouring into the Mets, perhaps Sugano will wind up playing in Queens.